The Message of Your All White Booklist

“Well, they’re my favorites, I can’t help if I like what I like.”

Back in July, Grace Lin shared a picture from her local public library on Twitter. When I saw it, my heart sank. I felt a shock of embarrassed sadness. And then I just felt fucking mad.

First, imagine Grace Lin is your library patron! Grace Lin! She has a Newbery Honor Medal! She is a National Book Award finalist! She’s literally one of the most passionate and smartest people in children’s literature. And she’s your library patron!  And when she comes into your library and sees one of those classic library displays of BOOKS YOUR LIBRARIAN (the curator, the decider, the person you trust) LOVES she sees … White people. As far as the eye can see: White people. This has nothing to do, by the way, about an author thinking “they should be featuring MY books!” Because now imagine that this patron is not Grace Lin, a famous children’s book author and adult, but a child. Maybe a White child, maybe a child of color. They see that same group of books dominated by White stories and White authors and White experiences (the sole exception being Simm Taback’s beautiful retelling of the Yiddish folk song about clever Joseph, who lives in a vibrant Jewish community) and they are told, explicitly: these are the stories your librarian (the curator, the decider, the person you trust) loves. These are the stories they see. These are the stories they value.

This message couldn’t be any clearer, it couldn’t be any louder, and it couldn’t be any more damaging.

Michelle Martin wrote this great piece in Kirkus – Be An Accomplice. In it, Dr. Martin asks a question I think should be posed to all librarians: “If you stay current, you know about the We Need Diverse Books movement. But has it changed what you do from day to day?”  

My fellow White librarians, I am asking you to think about your messages. I am asking you to imagine a child of color standing in front of a display filled with historical fiction that completely erases people of color. I am asking you to imagine the messages a White child gets standing in front of this display: “My story is THE story, see?”

I see this happen time and time again and I bet each of you do too.  I know it still happens in schools and public libraries all over the country. I bet you have all had a heart sinking moment of looking at a curated list compiled by a professional colleague (with the best of intentions, of course) and seeing how few books by Native creators and creators of color are on it.

For me, this sinking feeling came every year when they released the New Mexico Battle of the Books list. This is a state wide competition that encourages kids to read from a list of 20 titles, memorize details, and then compete in a quiz bowl like competition. It’s assembled by a small group of (almost entirely) school librarians and, without fail, it is a exceedingly White list. I have tried a variety of things to change this including made plenty of other nominations and specifically requested more diversity. But the White list – featuring the same small handful of Native creators and creators of color – returns every year.

On their 2016-2017 list out of 40 books, only one was by an African-American author yet two were by a white woman writing about African-American characters. The elementary list had only one book by an author of color and one book by a Native writer and the middle school list had three books by people of color – including the only book on either list by a Latinx author. Considering the population of New Mexico is 48% Latinx as of 2015 this felt like an especially glaring oversight. Similarly, we have 10% Native population and 22 federally registered tribe, yet there was only one book by a Native author on either list. All together out of 40 books, the lists featured only 5 books by Native authors and authors of color.

This is simply unacceptable in the year 2017. Honestly. I can’t think of any other way to say it. You, as a librarian, are charged with being a gatekeeper. When you make lists like this one, when you make displays like the one in Lin’s library, you are not opening the gates to everyone. You are status quo’ing and, to be frank, you’re being lazy.

“But they’re my favorites! I can’t help that they’re my favorites! I should be able to read what I want!” 

Imagine a patron comes up to you and tells you that they just finished the last Harry Hole book by Jo Nesbø and they really want some more dark Scandinavian mysteries.

“Oh sorry,” you say to them. “I really only like cozy mysteries. Ones with cats or in tea shops. I just can’t get into that dark stuff. But I just finished a great series about a quilter, let me show you.”

Can you imagine that? No, probably not. Because even if that was true, you’d understand that your reading tastes weren’t supposed to dictate their request. This moment is not about if you like Scandinavian noir. It’s about more than just YOUR taste in books.

And this exact thing is what I’m asking when I ask you to consider the lists, the displays, the booktalks you present to patrons. It’s about more than just YOUR taste in books.

Moreover: “I don’t really read books ‘like that’ so I don’t have any favorites to include or booktalk or display!” is a fundamentally racist thing to say. What do you even mean “like that”? Do you think Native creators and creators of color only write or create ONE kind of book? And what kind of book, exactly, would you imagine that is?

You really only love mysteries? Great! Do you know Attica Locke? Lamar Giles? Marcie Rendon? The Clubhouse Mysteries? You really only love romances? Super! Do you know Alisha Rai? When Dimple Met RishiWhen the Moon Was Ours? Farrah Rochon? You really only love historical fiction? Amazing! Do you know Stacey Lee? Homegoing? Margarita Engle? Tim Tingle? Shall I go on and on and on?

When you say “I don’t really read books ‘like that’ I stay in my favorite genre!” you should think carefully about what assumptions you’re making about work by Native creators and creators of color. It reveals that you think of “diverse books” as something remote, separate from “regular” books. And when you, as a librarian, as a gatekeeper, make these assumptions in your booklists, your displays, your selections – you’re passing them on to your patrons. You’re distancing and other’ing your Native patrons and patrons of color and you are sending the same message to your White patron.

I am not telling you what your “favorites” should be. I am not telling you YOU BETTER READ ____ OR ELSE! I am telling you that you owe it to your patrons to think bigger than just what you have always known, what you are most comfortable with, what you have always done.  Isn’t learning more and serving everyone a major part of what drew you to public librarianship as a career?  It certainly was for me. And I don’t take that lightly. I want to do the most for ALL my patrons and open their worlds up as much as I can. So for me, that means I’m going to make sure that my patrons are exposed to the widest range of authors and books – I am going to look BIGGER than the same White stories by the same White authors over and over. (the immediate family of an 11-13 year old White girl with a quirky name die in an accident, or maybe from cancer, and so she goes to live with her eccentric family, aunts or grandpas are best, and learns that this is her new home as she meets a loving cast of oddballs. They’re all mostly White, with a few people with “light brown” skin. I’ve read this book 10000 times. I’m so over this book.)

So, you’ve been there. You’ve looked at a booklist or a display that a colleague made – maybe that you made – and realized that you were leaving some voices and stories out, that it didn’t have the full range of experience and life that you wanted for your library and your patrons. You got that all White message.  What next?

Change it.  Change what you can, where you can.

My library stopped participating in the New Mexico Battle of the Books when my complaints (and suggestions) were met with a constant refusal to consider more and deeper diversity or to even address my concerns. Instead, I decided to create my own local program and get my school librarians on board.  It’s not perfect, heck it’s still an experiment in progress, but it’s a list that more accurately reflects the kids in our state, a list that isn’t the same tiny handful of Native creators/creators of color, a list that shows some of the best and most interesting writing in kidlit. I’m going to learn lessons as this goes. I am not going to have the same program I used to have. Some kids won’t be interested. But maybe some new ones will be. I am going to be OK with this new thing and know that at least it’s a step forward.

And I mean, come on. This is a pretty great list, right? 

Here’s a list I compiled for people signing up for our new 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program. I wanted to make them a list of books they might not have read 1000 times already (haha) or received ten copies of at their baby showers. I wanted to make a list for adults to share with kids that would allow them, together, to discover and explore the world through books. I chose high interest toddler topics (animals, trucks, counting, nature) and books about reading, writing, singing, playing, and talking. Some of these books could be considered my “favorites” but, really, they’re books I think a wide range of patrons can enjoy. Maybe even the books I don’t like as much, the books that aren’t my favorites can be someone else’s favorites.

Whenever I have a chance to share books with my patrons, with my fellow educators and librarians, I look with a critical eye at those lists, those displays, and those chances to be a gatekeeper, a trusted voice.  I think about who I am sharing mirrors and doors with and I think about all the chances I have to change a life, to help a patron feel seen, to open a new door, to help someone discover a new favorite. I am going to think about more than just me. Because that, too, is why I became a librarian.

My fellow White librarians: I challenge you to challenge yourselves. Take a hard look at your daily library service and think about what messages you’re sending – and which you are sending by virtue of omission.

We can change the message. Let’s do it.

Additional Reading

Performative Allyship and Storytime by Alec Chunn
Selecting While White: Breaking Out of the Vendor Box by Chelsea Couillard-Smith
Multicultural Children’s Literature: Where Are We? by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop

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REVIEW: ABIGAIL THE WHALE by by Davide Cali

Where’s the fat kids in picture books?

Well, you might guess the answer. They don’t really exist. Or they’re lumpy, somewhat grotesque bullies.  Or maybe you can find a few rotund hedgehogs or something but hey they’re really more adorable than anything else.

You know what fat people look like in picture books? Like this:

(this is from President Taft is Stuck in the Bath and I’ll be talking about this garbage fire shit soon.)

And yet picture books are the perfect place to start the talk with kids about loving and accepting your body.  Think of the picture books about accepting differences, about being OK with who you are.  Think how important those can be to kids, how when they are done well they are so affirming and so important.

Fat kids deserve mirrors too, is what I’m saying.  And they just don’t exist in picture books.

So yeah, I winced when I saw the title Abigail the Whale and saw a round fat girl in a bathing suit on the cover of a book.  I winced with everything I was expecting from this book.

And then I cried when it was nothing – nothing – like I was expecting.

The plot is quite simple. Abigail hates swimming in school. She hates it because when she jumps in the pool she makes “an enormous wave.” The other kids laugh.  They point.  And you know what they shout.  They shout “Abigail is a whale!”

The illustrations give us a lot here. They gives us Abigail slumping to the pool. They give us a huge wave from Abigail jumping in.  They even give us her heartbroken face as she bobs in the pool and her classmates tease her.

After swimming she sits by the pool with her swimming teacher.  And I braced for it.  I braced for the well meaning grown-up telling her that if she tried hard enough, if she worked hard enough at swimming, she could lose a little weight.  Oh, it wouldn’t be phrased like that, no dog whistles never are, it’d be something like: be stronger, feel better, be healthy, be more confident.  See, LOSING WEIGHT is always goal #1 of what they want us fat people to do, fat kids included, but they make sure to phrase it in a way where it seems like they care about us. So, I braced myself for it, for the gentle swim coach who encourages our fat little Abigail to work for her health.

And … instead …

“What’s wrong, Abigail? Don’t you like swimming? You’re a good swimmer, you know.”
“No, I’m too big and heavy.”
“That’s not true.  That’s just what you think.

Whoa! Whoa! Did an adult in a story just give a fat kid a compliment on her skills?  Did he just say that she’s good at something and then implicitly state that she is NOT too big and heavy.

I honestly gasped when I read this.  It seems so fucking small, I know.  I know it does.  But it’s not.  It’s not the kind of message fat people get.  We just don’t.

The book then gets into the main plot, which is the swimming teacher sharing his philosophy with Abigail, which will change Abigail’s life and power the narrative.

“We are what we think,” her teacher said. “If you want to swim well, you have to think light.” … “So if you want to feel light, think light.

Look…OK.  I know this is some surface level philosophy.  I know that it only scratches the very surface of what we need to understand and teach kids about bodies and how they interact with the world (and how the world interacts with them.) I totally agree. I also know there is a great amount of privilege in the suggestion you just “think” your way out of situations.

But I really think the swim coach’s advice is what makes Abigail the Whale work, because it is something that’s fundamental to fat positivity. One of the most important things you learn in fat positivity is that you can work to change people’s preconceptions but in the end you must accept your body and you are the most important voice when a thousand people are screaming at you about what a whale you are. It is your thoughts that change the world. You’re not suddenly thin.  It isn’t suddenly easier to find clothes that fit. But YOU can think about yourself differently and, in fact, that’s one of the first steps of fat positivity: what if I thought I was enough? 

And that’s really the core of what Abigail’s coach is telling her here: think of who you want to be and don’t let the world tell you otherwise or change your thoughts.

Abigail decides it can’t hurt and starts practicing it in ALL situations, not just swimming and not just when she’s worried about making a splash. In bed she thinks hedgehog curled up in a burrow and falls right asleep.  Abigail tries it all week! She thinks kangaroo and jumps high in gym. She thinks rabbit and eats all her carrots at lunch. She even, be still my heart, thinks shining sun and GUESS WHAT that boy she likes smiles at her.

YES, FAT KIDS!!! YOU CAN BE THE SHINING GOD DAMN SUN!!!!!!!!!!!!

And, at last, we come back to gym class and the pool.  And Abigail gets in line and thinks …. rocket. And she enters the water without a splash. And then and then she thinks of every kind of ocean fish and she swims beautifully, flawlessly. She thinks kayak, surfboard, submarine, speedboat and swims every stroke!

“Way to go, Abigail!”
All the kids in class we watching.
This time, no one shouted “Abigail is a whale!”

THE FAT KID IS TRIUMPHANT!! 

But of course there is still one kid who must tease. She dares Abigail to jump from the high diving board. Abigail climbs right up, though. And she thinks.  She thinks very hard.  And you know what she thinks of? In this moment after she has been victorious over her fears and shown off her skills and silenced the taunts Abigail thinks …

She thought very hard:
whale.
No, even better…
SUPER WHALE!

And she splashes all over that kid. With joy.

Let’s take a look at some of the illustrations from Sonja Bougaeva, because they’re really important and just wonderful.

Here, the illustrations give us the gravity of Abigail’s feelings. It sucks to be teased.  It hurts and it has a real impact.  It’s not “just fun” for Abigail.  Validating for fat kids to see!

Abigail is fat.  She is round.  She has a belly. This is a book about a fat kid and she is illustrated accordingly.  She’s fat.  This makes her body real and it is an actual mirror for actual fat bodies. Again, this seems like a detail, but it’s not.  Look at her in comparison with the other kids.

That’s a fat kid. That’s Abigail.

And you know what?  Abigail gets joy. Abigail gets to be GOOD AT SOMETHING.  Look at Abigail swimming, look at how she is HAPPY.

Oh, and note that she’s still fat. Look at her belly!

JOY JOY JOY LOOK AT THAT FAT KID’S TRIUMPHANT JOY JOY JOY!!!

I really did cry when I read Abigail the Whale for the first time.  So many moments when it could have went horribly, horribly wrong.  So many moments when it chose happiness for Abigail, when it gave her moments to preserve and, yes, persist.

Here are some amazing things for fat kids in this text:

  • her swim coach is fat too (see him in that first picture) so we know other fat people exist and DO STUFF in this universe and can even help each other out!
  • Abigail learns to sustain and bolster HERSELF. Using her coach’s technique she finds something in herself that motivates and inspires her.  She doesn’t rely on someone liking/befriending her or someone seeing something “other than her fat”. Within HERSELF and for herself she finds strength, resolve, and courage with WHO SHE IS and HOW SHE IS. This is some serious stuff that fat activists struggle with. To have it portrayed for kids in such a positive way … just … it means so much.
  • Abigail is allowed to feel stress and the impacts of the teasing. And, by that same token, she is allowed to feel joy and pride at her successes.
  • When she is up there at the top of the high dive, ready to jump in and show her bravery, Abigail does not imagine herself a rocket. She does not imagine she is light as air. She does not imagine herself as an arrow or even a cannonball. The text gives her that word back – the word the children have tried to turn against her. ABIGAIL IS A SUPER WHALE and that is empowering.  Many fat people will tell you of their joy of taking the word fat back for themselves and that’s what Cali gives Abigail in this moment.  I am here, at the top of this high dive, and I AM A WHALE and you won’t make me feel bad or hide from it. I WILL HAVE JOY. I WILL BE THAT THING YOU SAY I SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF. I WILL MAKE A SPLASH!

And does she ever.

Abigail the Whale is unlike anything I’ve ever read in picture books and, to be honest, it’s really quite unique in children’s AND YA lit. Because it gives us Abigail and her belly and her splash and it makes no apologies.  Indeed, it celebrates. This is a powerful message for kids, especially fat ones, and for the grown-ups who take care of them and are passing on messages about bodies and body image they might not even be aware of.

This is a translation of an Italian work and we’re so lucky to have it! If anyone speaks Italian or knows Davide Cali, please send him my biggest love and thanks! Abigail the Whale was published in the US by Owlkids Books. You can find out more about it here.  Of course, I am highly recommending it as a first purchase for all libraries and for anyone who wants to start sharing fat positivity with kids. You can pick up a copy at your favorite local indie bookstore or online. You can also check out a copy from your local library. If they don’t have one, suggest they purchase it.

Most major reviewing sources found it to be pleasantly innocuous or standard fare.  Trust me as a fat person and reviewer and lover of kid’s books: it’s anything but. Kirkus thought the swim teacher should have done more to stop the bullying – but this isn’t a book about THE OTHER KIDS, you see.  It’s a book about Abigail. And it’s about damn time she gets her own book.

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LOCK & MORI – Interview & Giveaway

I’m finally back from vacation and back on track now that school has started.  PHEW is there any rush like the end of summer programs meeting the beginning of the school year? After all the delays and holidays I am finally returning to Lock & Mori which was released YESTERDAY – wheeeeee! You might remember my overwhelming affection for this modern day re-telling of the Sherlock Holmes canon featuring a female teenage Moriarty (yes) and a teenage Sherlock solving mysteries and kissing as they hurtle towards their fate from my last blog.  Today, I have an interview with author Heather W. Petty AND I’m giving away a copy of Lock & Mori! Onto the interview!

heather

How were you first introduced to Sherlock and the work of Arthur Conan Doyle?  Did you always want to write your version?

I read the stories when I was a teenage murder mystery addict, but they weren’t my favorite, if I’m being honest. I was way more into Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. But rereading the stories more recently was really interesting. The narrative style really holds up for a modern reader. I think the first-person narrative mixed with some of the more progressive ideals presented in the stories are why derivative works have been so popular throughout the years.

How did you decide to write from Mori’s POV instead of Sherlock’s?

From the start, I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the villain. It was the biggest part of the appeal of the idea for me, really.

Why did you choose to set the story in present day?

I wasn’t really interested in writing a historical, so pulling the characters into the present day was a pretty easy decision.

I know you don’t want to spoil the next two books – but are you planning on introducing more characters from canon (in your own versions, of course!)24885790

The book is an origin story, so I’m trying to match up this story with an alternate, modern version of what happens in the canon. That means a lot of the characters introduced in the canon aren’t necessarily available to me. But I can’t answer this specifically yet. For reasons. 🙂

Do you have some recs for other YA mysteries?

YES! One of my favorites of the 2015 debuts is Mary McCoy’s DEAD TO ME. It’s Golden Age Hollywood noir perfection. I love that book so much! I also really loved TEN by Gretchen McNeil, UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan, and THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOWS by Robin Wasserman. Finally, keep 2016 in mind. Kristen Crowley Held has the cutest most hilarious mystery coming out in March called HOLDING COURT. And in June 2016, Bill Cameron has a YA mystery called PROPERTY OF THE STATE coming out that is BRILLIANT. I literally can’t wait to get my hands on a finished copy when it publishes just so I can reread it again and again.

Rank your favorite versions of Sherlock?  (note: it is OK to have The Great Mouse Detective as number one)

I couldn’t possibly rank them. I will say that House was probably, to me, the most unique derivation so far—so unique many people don’t realize it’s a Sherlock derivative work. And there’s a special place in my heart for the Jeremy Brett Sherlock from ITV’s various Sherlock series in the 80s and 90s. That show is probably what made me first fall in love with Sherlock and want to read the full canon. (As an aside, I saw Great Mouse Detective in the theaters when it first came out! Aaaaand, now I feel like the oldest ever.)

Find Heather online: website | Twitter |Facebook | Goodreads

Thank you, Heather!  I sometimes forget House is a Sherlock reboot too!  I love when stories come back over and over in different ways, I think it’s one of the things that really drew me to Lock & Mori.

ARE YOU DYING TO READ IT YET?  Since it’s out now you can order a copy of your very own!  Or you can go check it out from your local library (if don’t have it, suggest they purchase it.) AND YOU CAN WIN A COPY HERE!  All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog by Wednesday, September 23 and I’ll select a random winner.

Get on the case already! (sorry, I couldn’t resist …)

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Proposed Program: STEM Meets Diversity

I was brainstorming for summer reading when I came up with this program.  A lot of the inspiration came from What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Raymond Obstefeld.

color my world

This book traces the history of several African American inventors who are not widely known.  As I was thinking about creating a STEM program for the summer I thought … why not make the STEM program based on the work of real scientists? (yes, this thought was helped by the fact my town is filled with ever so many real scientists and many kids here have scientist parents.  As they always say: the best place to look around for ideas is your own community!)

This could help the kids, especially school age kids, put the experiments and science into a real world context – hopefully making a stronger and more lasting impact on them. As you may know, I love putting things in a real world context as it is a way to show kids that learning really is all around them and extending learning beyond the library and beyond library programs.  So connecting STEM programs to actual scientists and actual discoveries and actual inventions seemed like the perfect fit.

And once I thought of that … I instantly thought of this book.  What if we created a STEM program that was based around real-life inventions and scientists … of color.

Some advantages:

  • kids probably won’t be familiar with these scientists and their work, so you’re not just repeating things about Newton they’ve heard twenty times already. New!  Exciting!  Interesting!
  • you INSTANTLY have another diversity program that also covers STEM programming: two areas most libraries are looking to develop in.
  • it’s chance to take on STEM in a new way  – when I was creating our ScienceFest week of programs, I found a lot of the same stuff.  WHICH IS AWESOME but this is a way to approach STEM from a whole new direction and expand STEM to cover history and biography too.
  • I relish any chance I have to educate caregivers too – this could be a great chance to explain to caregivers WHY you are having this program, HOW they can help have conversations with their children about diversity and discovery. We can be the facilitators and leaders in these conversations about diversity and this program, which will have hands on experimenting and FUN is a perfect gateway.

Here are a few inventors and experiment pairings:

And those are just a few – I am sure there are tons more.  My original idea was to call the program Colors of STEM, but when I thought of also adding (white) women who were lesser known inventors I realized it didn’t quite fit.  So, I don’t quite have the right name yet: maybe something about discoveries or diversity or broadening your STEM horizons.  I also thought you might do this thematically by month – so you could have Great African-American Inventors in February or Women Inventors in March.  That would be another way to make those celebrations and displays get active in your library.

So what do YOU think?  Have any great names for this program?  Have some good ideas of  inventors/projects you think could go together and fit the theme?  What are some ways you could expand your STEM programming to be more diverse or more real world relevant? Comment here or chat with me on Twitter

Oh and one thing I definitely know – you could wrap the series up (especially if you do it in summer…) with a water gun party. After all Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker, is African American! 🙂

lonnie

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Proposed Program: Meet the Music

It all started with Little Melba!

melba

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone was one of my favorite books of 2014!  This swinging picture book biography (winner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Frank Morrison, yay!) tells the story of Melba Liston, a girl in the 1930s who was told little girls couldn’t play trombones.  Of course, Melba picked that trombone up and mastered it – becoming the first woman to play trombone in big bands of the 1940s. After I read, and fell in love with this amazing book, I thought just one thing –

I HAVE TO HEAR SOME MELBA LISTON MUSIC!

After jamming out to Melba Liston, I started thinking about how I could share this book in programs.  It’s a little too long to use in a story time, even one of our early readers sessions (which are geared at 4-7).  But I knew kids would love the illustrations and love the story of Melba’s creativity, determination, and successes.  So….where and when to use it?

Then I thought waaaay back to one of my first summers programming – all the way back in 2009. That summer, I built a program around one of my favorite American artists – Jackson Pollock.  Specifically: we had a school-age program in the summer – it lasted about an hour and we were always looking for programmings.  I read the book Action Jackson and then we spread out paper, listening to some jazz and did Jackson Pollock proud.

The kids had a BLAST – I could actually see them splattering to the music – just like Jackson Pollock did. The book and the art and the music all came together in this tangible, memorable way. It was an awesome program

pollock(me, rocking it in 2009 with Action Jackson and the kid’s art. See how long I’ve loved my job?!)

I thought about Melba Liston’s music and then I thought about that paint splatter and summer and school age kids and combining different literacies and … then I thought about all those cool picture book biographies about musicians that it’s sometimes hard to find the right reader for and …

MEET THE MUSIC was born!

What’s MEET THE MUSIC?  Let’s look at a program outline!

  • When: Once a week during the summer programming blitz, when we have lots of kids and families coming in and looking for programs to share.
  • Who: School age kids – old enough to listen to longer stories and discuss them but still young enough to love picture books and being read to.  We’ll have it open to ages 7+.
  • Why: Developing multiple literacies (music literacy!  visual literacy!  multicultural literacy!) and giving a spotlight to some books that might get lost in the biography section.  Also – these biographies do a great job highlighting multicultural and diverse lives and achievements. (So many POC, heck yes! And two of the books I selected are Schneider Family Book Award winners, spotlighting disabled protagonists who were successful musicians.)
  • What: Every week we chose an artist!  We read a biography about them and then listen to some of their music. TA-DAH. That’s it, program done.  NOW you could build out from this.  You could encourage the kids to talk about the music afterwards: did it sound like they thought it would from the book?  Did the writer do a good job describing the music and the way it makes you feel?  How would THEY describe the music and the way it made them feel? What about the pictures?  How do music, words, and pictures all work together? You could extend that to an art activity – draw during or after the music.

I talked about this ideas with some of my favorite librarians at Midwinter – Kendra, Laura, and Cate (among others) and they each came up with ways this program might work in their communities.  Kendra thought about adding live music and turning it into a longer family program featuring community musicians.  THAT’S AMAZING! (see why I have the best PLN both online and when I get really lucky IRL?!)

And that’s another thing I love about this program – it’s flexible and it can grow and to fit YOUR library.

Don’t believe you have enough books to power this program?  More like you don’t have enough weeks to cover all the books.  Here’s just a few of the titles I thought of. Look at the genres of music they span! Look at the different faces and illustrations!

And, of course, the cute program name: kids will be invited to meet the musicians by learning about their lives through the text and then meet the music by listening to it.

I can’t wait to start the introductions!

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  This program is DEFINITELY read to be stolen and implemented at your library! Do you have modifications for the program that might work at your library or make it more engaging?  How about other suggested titles that might fit – I’m sure there are some awesome picture book biographies of classical musicians, for instance.  Do you think a program like this would be successful at YOUR library? Are YOU ready to meet the music?!

Leave me a comment here with all your thoughts or talk with me on Twitter.

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Librarians & #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Have you supported #WeNeedDiverseBooks yet? What started off as a virtual movement has now become a full-fledged force.  Their fundraising drive met their goal in less than a month. (but you should still donate if you can!) The best part of the fundraising is that it backs up concrete, measurable results which will ensure that diverse books get out to a more children and teens.  Among the many cool goals, I have to admit my favorite is the one about funding not just an award but a grant for new writers – both named after the legendary (and beloved by me) Walter Dean Myers.  THESE are the kind of actions that need to be taken if we want to open up and PUSH the conversation/sales/and attention of diverse titles AND authors!

In several Twitter chats and interactions, I’ve noticed that people who don’t work in libraries are curious about how to – or even if they should – approach their (mostly public) librarians about stocking more diverse titles. I thought it might be helpful to have some tips on the best way to do this if you, a library user, want to interact with your librarian about the diversity in your library.  Now, of course, I can’t speak to every situation and you should use, well … approach your librarian as if that person has good intentions.  Because, 99.9% of the time, trust me when I tell you we do.  Librarians want to support diverse books.  We see.  We know.  More than you can imagine, we see the impact books have on children, we understand what it means when they find themselves in text.  We do.  And we want more diverse books and more diverse collections – but we’re limited by time and budget and staffing and a thousand little things that pull apart our days and responsibilities. That’s the reality of working in a public library in these times when everything from budgets to “so, hey eBooks are putting you out of business, huh?” presses in on us every single day.  But we care.  We do. Before you have any conversation with your librarian about diversity: try very hard (outside any previous experience that has given you cause to doubt) to presume good intentions. What else can you do?

Get to know your librarian!

We live for your questions.  We want nothing more than to talk to you about books.  We want to hear what you’re reading.  We want to recommend favorites.  And, most of all, we want to hear about what YOU want to see/read at the library.  Go ahead and ask the person behind the desk in the children/teen department what THEY are reading.  And, yes, ask them about diverse books

  • Be specific: “I’m interested in some picture books with African-American characters.”
  • Use examples of titles/authors you like: “I love the Lulu books by Hilary McKay. Can you recommend some others like that?”
  • Talk about what you want IN ADDITION to diversity: “My daughter loves books with action and adventure.  Can you recommend some diverse titles that would fit in with that?”
Once you have started this conversation, it will be easier to approach your librarian about requests or gaps you see in the collection. And, side bonus, you’ll get good recommendations.  Now, your librarian might not be some kind of machine that can spit out recommendations at the drop of a hat but here’s what questions like this do: indicate to your librarian that there is patron interest in these kind of books and let your librarian know that these are the kind of books they should be familiar with/able to booktalk and recommend. Say you’ll come back while they have time to compile a list, give your librarian a chance to do some research.

Submit your requests!

Almost all libraries accept patron requests.  This doesn’t mean they will buy everything yoyu request.  Budgets just don’t make that possible and neither do each library’s individual collection development policies, which vary from library to library but SHOULD be available to any patron that asks to see them.  But the point is … you are not inventing the wheel by asking if you can submit purchase requests.  DO NOT feel nervous, pushy, hesitant, or ashamed about submitting purchase requests. We get asked this often for more stuff than you could possibly imagine. Your library probably has a purchase request form on their website.  Here’s a few random examples:

If you feel hesitant about talking to a librarian about this, you can get to most online forms with a little bit of Googling or digging around at their website.  You can also ask in person for a paper purchase request – yes, those still exist.  (Well, in MOST libraries, I guess.)  As far as I know, libraries don’t “prioritize” one over the other.  BUT don’t just go spamming libraries with purchase requests if you don’t live there/have never even been to their library.  Most libraries require your patron info any way, so we’d notice. (and it doesn’t make us kindly inclined to your suggestions, trust.)

Now, that stuff might seem pretty self-evident.  But here’s the reason you got to know your librarian!  You can approach your librarian about WHY you want to purchase these books.  Sometimes the forms have space for this – fill it it!  But other times they don’t – but, hey!  You got to know your librarian!

How do libraries/librarians decide to buy books?  Well, it differs from library to library. But we all have (or should have) collection development policies.  These guide our purchasing decisions.  But so do other things.  Like budgets.  Like patron interest. (these elements can be built into collection development guidelines.) And, as you have no doubt heard countless times: libraries also use reviews and awards to help guide collection development.  That’s why those things matter, you see.

And that’s why you should use them to your advantage! Mention these lists.  Tell your librarian you’ll check out the award titles.  Award lists with patron interest?  Now that’s something a librarian can make a case for.  Not sure what lists to mention?  Luckily, I have some suggestions. For the most part, these are awards given by the American Library Association and its divisions (because this is, of course, the professional organization for librarians) but there are some others worth noting. Enjoy these handy direct direct links:

Coretta Scott King Award (lots of libraries carry these winners: but what about the Honor books?)
Schneider Family Book Award (for books that best embody the disability experience)
Pura Belpré Award (another good list to check on the Honor titles)
Stonewall Book Awards – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award
Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature
American Indian Youth Literary Award
Amelia Bloomer List (feminist literature for ages 0-18)

Non-ALA Awards
Jane Addams Peace Association Book Award (promoting peace, social justice, equality)
Ezra Jack Keats Book Award (for, among other things, portraying the “multicultural nature of our world”)
Lambda Literary (category for Children’s/Young Adult)
Américas Award (for portraying Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States)
Sydney Taylor Book Award (awarded by the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature)
NAACP Image Award for Literature (categories for Children & Teen)

>If you have a blogger or website that you think gives particularly insightful and comprehensive reviews, you should feel free to talk to your librarian about that source too.  Maybe they’re familiar with them, maybe they’re not and they can add a new review source. For example: Debbie Reese has recommended lists on Native Americans in Children’s Literature and Twinja Reviews had a ton of lists for Black Speculative Fiction Month, including smaller press stuff which can be hard to find reviews of.

What about donations? Self-published stuff?

First, thank you for thinking of your library!  Now give us money.  Haha, just kidding.  Sorta.

The real first thing is: gifts are not free. When you donate something to a library, we have to take staff time and our own materials to process it and catalog it so it can be added to the collection.  Someone also has to decide if it belongs in the library collection, which goes back to using our collection development guidelines. So, that takes time and money and it’s time and money some libraries don’t have, which is why they may not accept donations and why you should ask what your library’s policies and procedures for donations/gifts are first.

Next is the self-publishing issue.  There’s a great conversation about self-published books, how they get reviewed, and what that means for libraries at The Horn Book.  There’s many people saying smart and thoughtful things there, but I will give you a little bit of my librarian’s perspective.  First, we just can’t circulate paperback picture books or easy readers.  They fall apart and they are not worth staff time processing them. If you want us to buy/add a picture book or easy reader?  It’ll have to be hardcover. Second, I have run the numbers.  In my library, I have STATISTICALLY seen that overall, the self-published books that were donated and then added to our collection circulate less than traditionally published books.  That is absolutely going to be a factor in my decision about adding titles. Does this mean we would never add self-published books?  No, of course not.  We have and will again – but it does mean that they are held to a higher standard. I don’t mean for this post to be THE ULTIMATE GUIDE ON HOW TO GET YOUR SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK IN LIBRARIES!!1 I don’t think that exists, for one thing, and every library will have a different set of guidelines and standards about this – because this is a new field and because every community is different. There’s also the issue of where libraries will be able to obtain your self-published title from and if their purchasing guidelines allow for them to buy from those services. And you know what that leaves you with, should you be wishing to urge a librarian to buy your self-published book/donate it?  It leads you right back to step #1: get to know your librarian!

And there you go!  Those are some ways you can really interact with your librarian (and your library shelves) when it comes to finding out about new diverse material AND requesting your library’s shelves grow even more diverse.  Just as we should speak up to the publishing world and let them know that, yes, we will buy and promote and be excited about diverse titles, that we want more to share with children and teens, so should we talk to librarians about this – and I mean this if you’re a library user or if you’re a fellow librarian reading this now.

What are YOU doing, fellow librarians, to make patrons aware of your diverse collection? What are you doing to EXPAND your collection? 

Do you make it easy for patrons to figure out how they can request titles, are you forms easily accessible? Do you do displays with the books face out for cultural heritage months?  Do you include diverse titles on your best books for fifth grade! recommended reading lists or your staff favorites?  Do you put your diverse titles face-out where patrons can find them browsing?  Do you booktalk diverse titles on school visits or when asked for recs?  Do you talk to your child/teen patrons about why this issue is important and impacts them?  Are you making a conscious effort to expand the doors and windows in your collection, to address gaps, to make sure your collection is diverse and TRUE to?

This is now in OUR hands.  Let’s do something about it.

If you have any questions – or even better suggestions – about how diversity in library collections and what you can/should do about it as a library user OR a librarian, I’d love to continue the conversation!  You can leave a comment here or talk to me on Twitter.  Let’s keep this momentum and this movement going – we owe to our patrons.

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Banned Books Week: an interview with Meg Medina and a GIVEAWAY!

“What kids need and deserve is to feel respected – not just by their classmates, but also by teachers and school leaders who ought to have faith in young people’s ability to read, think, and decide.” – Meg Medina

Yesterday, I wrote a short review of Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and talked about a situation involving Meg  being uninvited from a middle school speaking engagement in Virginia because of the word ASS in the book’s title.  I wanted to know more about the situation, so I reached out to Meg.

I was so happy when Meg Medina agreed to answer a few questions about not only her work and her motivation, but her recent experience with being in the spotlight.

And then she sent back her incredible, thoughtful answers and I was beyond happy!

Below, you’ll find out a little bit more about Meg and her work, particularly the motivation for writing the wonderful Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.  There’s also more information about the situation in Virginia and some really insightful commentary.

Meg Medina

Meg Medina is a Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. Her work examines how cultures intersect through the eyes of young people, and she brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls. Her books are Milagros: Girl from Away; The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind; Tia Isa Wants a Car; and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. She is the 2012 winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award. When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or literacy. She lives with her extended family in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Where does it end? When we only allow kids to read books that offend absolutely no one and that offer up nothing that makes them reflect on the uncomfortable realities of their lives?  – Meg Medina

Tell us a little bit about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS.  What was the genesis of the book?

Meg Medina: YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is the story of 16-year-old Piddy Sanchez who finds herself the target of a school bully at her new high school. Bullying is the main event in the novel but we cross lots of terrain, like cultural identity, relationships between mothers and daughters, sexual relationships, relationships between students and teachers. I based the novel on a shard of truth from my experience with a school bully in junior high school. The impact of that experience was long lasting and awful. I lost my trust of others. My grades dropped, as I cut class and skipped school. And for a time, I experimented with risky people. It took years for me to feel better and get back on track.

At the National Coalition Against Censorship blog, they mentioned that you had been told that your book seemed to “address the inner city“.  I think many people can see this as a thinly veiled racist dog whistle.  What was your reaction to this element of the administration’s response?

MM: It was actually a quote to a reporter who covered the story. Neither the superintendent nor the principal spoke to me at all. http://www.richmondmagazine.com/blogs.php?blogID=3fa19738ea6e1cb340bfc8ee7b35d280

But, in any case, it was a stunner coming from a school superintendent.

Even if she were trying to point out that the novel was set in Queens, New York, it would be a silly reason to dismiss a book. The idea that a reader has nothing to learn from characters that are in different circumstances is ridiculous.

As for the alarming overtones: Kids aren’t bullies because they’re Latino or because they live in a city. Kids who dress in Northface jackets and drive nice cars — or who live in Cumberland County — can be just as awful.

Have there been any updates on the situation in Virginia?  What has happened since the story has become more widely known?  How has it impacted you?

MM: Well, my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with much-appreciated support. This included a post from Judy Blume who has been fighting censorship for decades now.

I’ve received invitations to places as far away as Alaska – and I’ll be part of an anti-bullying community event in Washington, DC next month where I will definitely say the title of my book. Also, I’m proud to say that Richmond City Library, Main Branch, is starting a teen book club this coming spring. YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is one of their first titles on the list.

The biggest impact, though, has been on my willingness to speak up. As a rule, I’m not a person who seeks out conflict. However, I’m now past just shaking my head and quietly “working around” people who feel justified in censoring books for young people – mine or anyone else’s. Where does it end? When we only allow kids to read books that offend absolutely no one and that offer up nothing that makes them reflect on the uncomfortable realities of their lives?

One of the things I love about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is how effectively you get across that bullying can start over seemingly nothing (Piddy doesn’t even know Yaqui) and then escalate into something that takes over the victim’s whole life.  Can you talk about the process of making the bullying feel so accurate intense? 

MM: Definitely, you can be bullied for the most ridiculous reason. In fact, bullying has very little to do with the victim. It’s mostly about power and about what the bully is trying to work out. The sad part, though, is that kids who get bullied often believe that there is something wrong with them, something that marks them as a loser. That’s where the hopelessness and shame begin.

When I drew Piddy as a character, I drew a normal kid with brains and average looks and people who loved her. She could be anybody. There’s nothing about Piddy that’s “wrong.”

Yaqui was tricky; you could write an entire novel about a girl like that, couldn’t you? But I wanted to tell Piddy’s story, not Yaqui’s. So, as I fleshed out Yaqui, I worked on revealing her only through Piddy’s experience and perceptions. Yaqui started out as a sentence, something that didn’t worry Piddy very much at all. But as each chapter unfolded and as Piddy’s self-confidence eroded, the idea of Yaqui seeped into every part of Piddy’s being until it was all consuming. That overpowering dread felt the most realistic to me.

What lessons about bullying do YOU want young readers, be they bullied, bullies, or bystanders, to take from this YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS? What about the messages for adults who work with or are involved with teenagers?

MM: Researchers will tell you that the reasons for bullying are varied and complicated, and they may be right. But at the core, I think kids savage each other mostly because they want to ease their own insecurities, rage and despair – and because no one has stopped them from doing so.

I don’t know that I have lessons in mind, and I certainly don’t offer easy solutions. What I do have is a story that might help a reader feel less lonely and one that might open honest dialogue in a classroom, a library or at a kitchen table.

I wish adults would stop wringing their hands about the wrong things – like whether it’s okay to say, “ass” in front of 14 year olds. Conversations like that miss the point and cement adults’ reputation as being out of touch. What kids need and deserve is to feel respected – not just by their classmates, but also by teachers and school leaders who ought to have faith in young people’s ability to read, think, and decide.

I love your GIRLS OF SUMMER project as well as how all of your work apologetically concentrates strong female characters!  Why do you think this is so important in books for children and young adults? 

MM: Thanks. I love that project, too. Gigi Amateau and I pick 18 books for strong girls every year and then we spend the summer chatting with the authors of those books on our blog.  We include picture book all the way to YA to reflect the long and challenging journey of growing up a strong girl.

There are other fantastic lists (the Amelia Bloomer Prize, for one), but Girls of Summer reflects our personal favorites, the books we recommended to our own daughters and the newer titles we mention to the wonderful girls we meet every day. We’re picky about finding books about unconventional girls who choose their own path, girls who reflect on themselves and who learn to take charge of their fate.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on next?

MM: I have a picture book due out in 2015 called LORO MANGO (Candlewick Press).  And I’m just lifting off on a Young Adult manuscript for Candlewick Press. It’s also set in Queens, but this time we travel to 1977.  Oh, and heads up. I’m pretty sure someone will say “ass” in that one, too.

Thanks so much to Meg!  Not only did she agree to this interview, but Meg is giving away a signed paperback copy of her last YA novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Winda lovely, ethereal story about (you guessed it!) a strong girl finding her place in the world to one lucky reader.  And since I want to keep my pledge to stand up for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by getting it in as many hands as possible, I’m giving away a copy of that!  

Want to be entered to win these awesome books?  Leave a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a random winner! And since the point of  these blogs is to share this story and Meg’s experience as widely as possible?  You can earn an extra entry by sharing this on Twitter or Facebook.  Just link to your share in your comment and you’ll be entered twice

Let’s honor the battles of Banned Books Week by STILL talking about this; by saying it was wrong and, as Meg points out, symptomatic of a larger problem teens face.  Let’s have faith.  And let’s fight for it.

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Banned Books Week: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

It all starts with a buzz that high school student Piddy shrugs off – “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass!” She doesn’t even know Yaqui so why would she want to fight with Piddy?  It’s probably a case of mistaken identity or no big deal.  And, anyway, what’s the worst this total stranger could do?

This is the start of Meg Medina’s powerful Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass, one of my favorite YA books of 2013.  I’ve been in love with this book since it was first released back in March.  It’s received four starred reviews. I’ve booktalked it to my teens, featured it in my displays, and promoted it on our library’s teen Facebook page because I think it’s truly special.  Why?  Before anything else, what a delight to see a diverse cast of characters dealing with a universal story – this is always such a treat in YA.

Next is the way Medina structures the escalation of bullying.  Rarely, if ever, have I read a book that so accurately portrays the intensity and the slow build and burn of high school bullying.  I want to pull my hair out when I read stories about teenagers who are bullied and see school administration responding with “Well, but does it happen on campus?”  As if the insidiousness of bullying doesn’t follow teens; sink into every moment of their life, as if saying that gets administrators off the hook for not helping teens. Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass is flat-out brilliant at showing how bullying isn’t the kind of thing teenagers can just walk away from, even when they try.  Medina knows that bullying is a campaign of harassment that builds and builds – that’s what happens to Piddy.  She thinks things with Yaqui are silly or, at least, can be ignored.  But they can’t – Yaqui isn’t going away, if anything she is escalating her behavior against Piddy.

This escalation, and this understanding of bullying behavior, gives Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass not just a claustrophobic sense of reality but also makes it a page-turner.  As Piddy looks for a way out, Medina uses this as a way to let us into Piddy’s whole world; her interactions with her mother, her burgeoning relationship with a boy, and the way this bullying blows apart her well-ordered life. You’re rooting for Piddy but you, like her, are also not sure what the “right” solution is.  Again, what a beautiful lifeline in literature Medina has created here: she doesn’t lie to the young readers of this book, she doesn’t make it seem as simple as “Piddy should just tell!” That would only be the beginning of a whole new set of problems – Piddy knows that and so will teens.  Understanding this, unraveling this pain, is more than that and this book doesn’t shy away from that truth.  It’s what makes it work and it’s what makes it unique.

This is a very good book, a special book, and, yes, in some spots a very hard book to read.  But it’s also the kind of book I think can matter in teen’s lives – help them actually see the shockwaves of bullying, help them know they aren’t the only person who has felt their whole life spin out over something they can’t control, maybe even help them feel not just a little empathy but a little less alone in a dark time.

Yaqui_frontcoverfull (1)

This is also a book that, you may notice, has the word ASS in the title.  Which, ostensibly, is what got Meg Medina uninvited from speaking at a middle school in Virginia.  I say ostensibly because, while I am sure the word ASS was part of it?  I also know that it was something deeper – it was the way books like Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass make adults uncomfortable – the way it makes them confront the dark realities of life as an adolescent.  Those are scary things for adults to have to face and those are the kind of things that pull books off shelves and out of children’s hands.

It’s words like ass and it’s worlds where girls you don’t even know can determine to make your life a living nightmare while adults in your world stand powerless that make books disappear from public and school library shelves. A challenge here, an uninvited author there, a concerned parent with a letter to a principal, a board – these things not just erode the intellectual freedom of children and teens but take something life-saving, life-changing from them – books, stories, words, a hand in the dark.

THIS is why we, librarians, educators, teachers, writers, fight challenges and raise awareness about them.  It’s why we want to get people talking about them and being outraged about them and fighting them.  That’s why we have BANNED BOOKS WEEK.

We do not, make no mistake, celebrate Banned Books Week.  Throw that out the window.  We celebrate a commitment to defending intellectual freedom, we celebrate the fight, we celebrate everyone who does not go quietly.  We do this because we want you, the general public, we want you to know this is happening all over this country and it MATTERS.

I wanted to boost the signal on what happened to Meg Medina and what it reveals to us about how easily books are pulled away from the very readers who might need them the most.  I wanted this year’s Banned Books Week to be a time for all of us, from those of us active in this field to the friends you have on Facebook who shared that video of the cat librarian in Russia, to let people know that challenges like this are happening all across this country and we do not agree and we will not be silent.

This Banned Books Week: Stand up for Yaqui Delgado.  

How?

Take this pledge with me:

We will talk about challenges, about climates that discourage intellectual freedom.  We will share it.  We will be outraged about it, we will encourage others to be outraged about it.  We will tell the story of how books matter, about what they can do for teens. Moreover: we will tell teens about these books. We will BUY THE BOOKS.  We will ask the libraries in our communities, the public libraries and the school libraries, to BUY THE BOOKS for our communities. We will not let all the readers who see their story in Piddy’s story be silenced and made invisible.  We will insist their voices count.

To further boost the signal, I also reached out to Meg to see if she would do an interview with me about what happened and what she’s learned from it.  She graciously agreed and then gave me some amazing, insightful answers.  Tomorrow, to continue this campaign to stand up for Yaqui, I will not only post the interview, but everyone who comments will have a chance to win a hardcover copy of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass AND a signed copy of Meg’s novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind.

Let’s boost the signal.  Let’s raise our voices.

Let’s kick some ass.

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Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann: a review and a GIVEAWAY!

Quick: how many books have you read where the main character has autism or autism spectrum disorder?

Now: how many of those books were written by an author who openly speaks about their own autism spectrum disorder?

For me, I realized that while I could come up with a few titles answering the former question, I couldn’t think of one answering the latter.  Then I was lucky enough to read the essay Lyn Miller-Lachmann wrote for Young Adult Review Network (YARN) talking about the origins of her book Rogue and her own experiences having Asperger’s Syndrome.  This is an amazing piece that helps really personalize what it feels like to have Asperger’s and looks at Miller-Lachmann’s decision to write a book featuring a character that also has this disorder.

rogueThat character is the unforgettable Kiara Thorton-Delgado, an eighth grader with Asperger’s who yearns for people to understand her and genuinely tries to connect with them. Rogue opens with Kiara determined that her new next door neighbor Chad, unlike all the other new kids who quickly reject her, will become and remain her friend.  But Chad is from a seriously troubled home, so her focus on becoming part of his world leads to more complicated situations that she originally bet on.  But Kiara is convinced this is her chance to have a friend and to belong.  Now, however, she’ll have to figure out what “being a friend” actually means and if she really is prepared for it.

This sounds like a trite premise, I know, but Miller-Lachmann takes the story to a thousand interesting and new places because of her deep understanding of Kiara.  Here’s the thing: I have just described to you a universal premise, a familiar story.  But when the character in this familiar story has Asperger’s, suddenly we are hearing a voice we have never heard before and seeing things we have not seen before.  It does not make this story less universal; instead, it turns Kiara’s struggles, complete with her Asperger’s, into something universal.  There’s something both epic and accessible about this, something that can’t be discounted.  This is why good writing about disability matters, this is why diversity in our characters counts – when the writing is as good as Miller-Lachmann’s is here it reminds us (and helps younger readers see) that characters with disability are part of universal stories too.

Kiara’s universal story is the heart and soul of Rogue.  Rogue wasn’t just a book I genuinely loved and enthusiastically recommend for advanced middle grade readers it was also a book I felt like (and this part is really important to me) I’d never read before.  It felt new, fresh, and challenging.

I adore the way Kiara learns to shine using her own set of strengths and abilities.  Kiara is often toting around a camera and filming things: she uses this as a way to cope with her Asperger’s but also discovers it can be a way to share her vision with people.  Rogue is the story of how Kiara tries to fit in and, more than that, it’s the story of how she figures out what “fitting in” really means and is really worth.  I love this.  I love that this is a story about finding “your people” by finding yourself and I love that this is also a story about accepting that “fitting in” might not be possible for everyone, not just because of disability, but because of their own personalities and beliefs.  This is BIG THOUGHT stuff for middle grade, which as most of you know, is the exact thing I think middle grade should be tackling.

Now for a bit about the title: Rogue, of course, has multiple meanings.  One of the main ones, however, is Kiara’s love for the superhero Rogue, a member of the X-Men.  Rogue, of course, is the mutant who cannot touch people because she saps their powers with contact.  Kiara finds real resonance in Rogue’s literal inability to connect and another thing I love about this book is that Miller-Lachmann takes this seriously.  I LOVE books that treat fandom as an important and maybe even life-saving element of people’s existence.  Yes – that’s what it can be like.  Not nerds, not haha how socially inept, but the joy of finding connection and recognition in a fictional world … Miller-Lachmann completely nails how that’s special, how that can mean so much.  Kiara knows it, knows the way she feels about Rogue, knows what it means to see herself in her.

Though Kiara is an eighth grader, Rogue is definitely on the higher end of middle-grade and actually acts as a good bridge read to young adult fiction.  I highly recommend it for grades 6-9  and particularly for readers who are drawn to stories of outsiders.  There are some really intense topics covered in the book (Kiara’s fractured family and, especially, Chad’s familial situation) and Miller-Lachmann is honest and frank about Kiara’s anger and her struggles, complete with setbacks and outbursts.  Kiara isn’t always the most likable character and yet you, as a reader, are still drawn to her.  You want to know more about her story and, well, you’re rooting for her.  You feel the universality in Kiara’s story and yet you know her personally.  That’s what makes her story fly and that’s what makes her story stick.

Thanks to Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s awesome kindness, you have a chance to win an autographed copy of Rogue! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post by Tuesday, July 2 and I’ll choose a random winner.  If you don’t win, Rogue is on sale now. If you can’t buy a copy, check one out from your local library.  If they don’t have it, request they add it to their collection.

(NOTE: I reviewed this title from an ARC Lyn sent me and I volunteered to host this giveaway on my site because I loved it so much.  A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Lyn at ALA at a super-cool YALSA event for small publishers.  She was there promoting her amazing book Gringolandia, which is STILL on my Best Books for High School Readers list.  Talk about an original, daring, and insightful young adult titles – Gringolandia is all that and more. If you haven’t read it, go get it right now!)

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Malinda Lo’s ADAPTATION: a review, an author-created playlist, and a GIVEAWAY!

When I think about Malinda Lo, shivers of delight run up my spine.  And why’s that?  It’s because whenever I read something by her I know that piece is going to be quintessential YA – a story about a teenager figuring out their place in their world and finding their own voice.  And, even more than that, it’s going to be well-written, well-plotted and, this is the best part, unblinkingly honest about the complexities of teenage life.  That, that’s the part that makes me always look forward to what Malinda Lo is going to write.  So, yes, I’d read whatever she wrote.  But to discover her latest book,  Adaptation, was going to be science-fiction, a genre I have a nerd’s special and life-long devotion to?  Well, I could hardly contain my excitement.

And, with another shiver of delight,  I was quite happy to discover that Adaptation not only lived up to all my expectations but exceeded them.  This book is the YA book I’ve been waiting for, the YA book of my dreams.  It’s the YA book your collection is missing.  It’s a perfect blend of several genres: it has elements of contemporary YA, science-fiction, and romance.  It’s a book about how you’d handle it if the creeping feeling that, as a teenager, there was something off about you, something different indeed, turned out to be  … true.

Damn!  There they are again, the shivers of delight!

I hesitate to spoil  Adaptation because, as with all the best written and well structured books, so much of the pleasure of it comes from the unfolding of the whiz-bang revelations of each chapter.  So, without spoiling I can say that this is the story of some very mysterious and unexplained things that happen to a teenage girl named Reese.  The story kicks off with planes all over the country suddenly being downed by large flocks of birds.  One thing I love is how Lo uses these plane crashes to set up not just an ominous tone for the story (what’s happening?  Is the government telling us everything about these crashes?  How suddenly isolated this makes us and how that creates a creeping feeling of anxiety) but a really believable one.  This all feels grounded in the hyper-anxious times we live in.  That, to me, is always the best place to launch speculative fiction from – the reality of now.

 Adaptation follows Reese and her crush David as they make their way home after being stranded by the grounded flights and the story is propulsive from the first chapter.  But the REAL story is what happen when Reese and David survive car crash and wake up in a military hospital.  The military won’t tell them what happened but, as I am sure will come as no small surprise to you, Reese and David find that just as the world isn’t quite the same … neither are they.

It’s everything that makes YA great and everything that makes sci-fi great (also, it should go without saying but, just to be sure, this book is not “hard” sci-fi, so if that’s your passion, well, read Losers in Space) and it’s full of conspiracies and plot twists and, boy, is it FUN!

I would also be remiss to not mention the fact that, yes, this book isn’t just about ominous end time doom, wide-ranging government conspiracies, and teenagers caught in the middle of all of this but also about sexuality.  Yes, that’s the other reason a Malindo Lo book gives me shivers of delight – when I pick up one of her books I know that there are going to be intelligent teenage characters dealing with the complexities of their sexual attraction.

And, of course, this works so amazingly well with Lo’s sci-fi universe.  After the accident, Reese feels like everything about her has changed.  Is she right?  How right?  Does that explain why she’s suddenly drawn to the enigmatic and alluring Amber or is that completely unrelated?  I won’t bore you with spelling out all the metaphors and the great thing is neither does Lo.  (She is FAR too talented a writer to bog such a well-crafted, well-realized story down with obviousness, preachiness).

Adaptation is a story of changes and, yes, adaptations of all kinds.  THAT’S what makes it so darn readable and, for teens, so darn relatable.  That one of those changes has to do with sexuality?  Well, that’s just what makes this book even more fantastic, original, powerful, and needed on every library shelf.

What I’m saying to you is: Adaptation is worth all the shivers of delight.  

Today is Adaptation’s release day!  That means as of today, you can rush out and buy your own copy or buy a copy for your library.  If you can’t buy it, go into your library and request it.  If they don’t own it, request they purchase it.

AND since this post is part of the publicity for Adaptation (the second I finished the AR of this book, I contacted the publishers and begged them to let me spotlight it here because I loved it so) now YOU have a chance to win your very own copy!  Little & Brown has generously provided me with a copy to give away.  (Thanks, LBYR, you’re the best!) All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog no later than Tuesday, September 25 and I’ll choose one random winner.

AND Malinda Lo agreed to share her playlist for the book here on my blog.  SQUEE!!  IS THERE ANYTHING BETTER THAN A PLAYLIST!?!  This is a super one because not only do all these songs totally match the atmosphere of the book but I even found some new favorite music.

Thanks for sharing this, Malinda!  For more information about  Adaptation and all of Malinda’s other writing, visit her website.

Malinda Lo’s Adaptation Playlist

(click on this link to go directly to the awesome YouTube playlist created by Malinda featuring all of these songs.  Aw yeah!)

One of my favorite things to do while working on a novel is look for music that fits a character or a particular mood. At least, this is the way I justify all the time and money I spend on iTunes! Music can give me a gut-level sense of connection to a character, and it can help me get in the proper frame of mind to write a scene. Sometimes I listen to music when writing to motivate myself, and often I listen to the playlists I create for my novels while I’m walking or driving. Because I listen to these songs repeatedly while I think about what I’m writing, I start to identify the music with the story. Then, when I’m stuck or need a nudge to get to work, listening to a particular song can actually flip the creative switch in me, enabling me to dive right into the scene I’m working on.

I created eight playlists while writing Adaptation, some very short and focusing on particular characters; others much longer and centering on mood. Out of all these playlists I’ve selected 12 tracks that represent the book to me. Whenever I hear one of these, I always think of some aspect of Adaptation. Here’s the playlist and some of my thoughts on why I chose these songs:

1. “Help I’m Alive” by Metric — This was the first song that truly connected me to the main character, Reese. What I love about this song is that the lyrics seem like a cry for help (“help I’m alive”) but the music beneath it isn’t at all weak. I like that contradiction. In the chorus, Emily Haines sings: “Hard to be soft / Tough to be tender.” The words imply that the person crying for help isn’t soft or tender; she struggles to be tender. I think this is at the heart of Reese’s character arc throughout Adaptation and its sequel.

2. “Magical World” featuring Nelly Furtado by Bassnectar — This was the first song I listened to that carried the mood of the book that I wanted to write: mysterious, futuristic, and sexy. Also: “not everything in this magical world is quite what it seems.” That is the truth!

3. “Twilight Galaxy” by Metric — To be honest, Adaptation’s theme band could be Metric. I listened to their albums Fantasies and Live It Out repeatedly while writing the book. This is one of my favorite songs from Fantasies.

4, 5. “Crash and Burn Girl” by Robyn; “Liar” by Dragonette — These two are fun, addictive pop songs about “bad” girls. That’s why some girls are “bad”: they do wrong things, but you can’t resist them. There is a girl like that in Adaptation.

6, 7, 8. “Assassinations” by Stateless; “Between Two Points” featuring Swan by The Glitch Mob; “Timestretch” by Bassnectar — All songs I listened to for mood: creepiness, depressing angst, and mysterious plot acceleration. Is “mysterious plot acceleration” a mood? It was in Adaptation!

9. “Leave My Body” by Florence + the Machine — I listened to this song on repeat while writing Chapter 36. I listened to a lot of Flo in this chapter!

10, 11. “Bluetrace” by Stateless; “How to Be Eaten By a Woman” by The Glitch Mob — I listened to a lot of electronic music while writing Adaptation, including the Stateless albums Stateless and Matilda; and every Glitch Mob track I could find. They all go under “mysterious plot acceleration.”

12. “Cosmic Love” by Florence + the Machine — I’ve always connected this song to the romance in Adaptation, but the lyrics surprised me by being completely relevant to Chapter 39.

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